Once upon a time in ‘Bombay’


There’s something special about returning to a place you once called home. I have returned after a partly hectic and relaxing four day trip to Mumbai. Day three was what I had been eagerly waiting and planning for. I was going to visit what once used to be our home and our world;more than three decades ago!

Although it was going to be a flying visit, I was just as excited as it was the place filled with my earliest memories as a child.

So, here I was. On day three, as our taxi slowly drove towards what I remembered as ‘familiar territory’ I could barely control my excitement. It was time to reflect and reminisce.

One of the first stop was my old school. I had spent only four but formative years of my school life in this school. I caught a glimpse of it from the outside and it looked familiar; but there was no nostalgia as I had anticipated.

Standing for a quick photo session in front of my school gate I remembered my school days. The slates, the art and craft sessions and the glue we used.  Did I expect its typical odor to come wafting out of one the classrooms, I wonder?!

I also thought of  the brown papers which covered our books,the fountain pens filled with an ink dropper and the school satchels. We drove past the road from school to home which we walked every single day. It looked almost the same but for some reason the distance seemed longer to me.

I also visualized school days during monsoons –rain ponchos which had little slits, our books covered with plastic and the black rubber shoes/’gumboots’ that we wore. Did I just hear the school bell ring? No, it was time to move for the next stop.The school ‘stop-over’ was done.

Next stop was what I had been so looking forward to-our residential area! The first entry gate was coming  up on the right at the roundabout. It very much existed, but why did it look so different? What had changed? I remembered a lane full of tall green tress on either side. As school girls, we sometimes took that path home .I remember waiting and calling out to my classmate who lived in the high rise building there. Did I expect to see her coming down to greet me?

Further down the road, it was a surprise to see a  huge, new gate which led the way to our residential flats. I looked everywhere and I felt lost. I could not recognize a thing, not because my memory had failed; because everything single thing had changed. It no longer looked the same. The gate on the right? Was it gone I thought, no! I could see it in the distance, but everything around was unrecognizable and unfamiliar.

We somehow missed that gate as we felt lost, went further down and came in through another entrance. Trees adorned the road. New buildings, new structures all around. We felt like we were in a maze. Our only guide was the markings on the buildings. H block! We suddenly saw H block. That made me smile just a bit.

Going down and down the road. Wait, something looked the same! Unmistakably, surely oh surely this was the rear side of D block.Our block.What I had just seen where the maids quarters which looked exactly the same!We heaved a sigh of relief.At last, a hint of familiarity and joy. We stopped and we parked.We got down for a quick stroll around.

As much as I was delighted about how clean and neat the place looked; I was also a bit surprised. This wasn’t what I was expecting to see. I expected everything to be just the way it was when we had left. I expected the memories to come flooding back. I even expected euphoria!

Nothing looked the same. Nothing felt the same. I was perhaps expecting too much. Thirty years is after all a very long time. Everything looked very different, but yet the same. I didn’t know what to make of all this.

I looked around and searched for the corner shops which used to sell old world sweets and toffees. I even thought of the tailor shop which stitched our ‘self designed’ clothes in those times. I remembered our favorite book library- awaiting and borrowing all our favorite books. I  looked at all our friend’s houses.

The place looked totally renovated- full of new and beautiful plantations, gardens and parks. I felt something  either missing or looking  unusual. Was it the space? Was it too congested or had it lost its originality and charm?

I hurried along hopeful of seeing all our favorite spots in the playground. I longed for the same atmosphere- when the play area would be alive at all times with children of all ages playing-Frisbee, French cricket, badminton, cycling, ball games, hand clapping games, hopscotch, four corners, the dog and the bone game and much more. I was thoroughly and utterly disappointed.

Where was the place I grew up in? It certainly used to be a magical land. This was like being in a new place. Our ground floor verandah grill was covered up with a net. I wanted to get a little peek inside. When I could not, I forced myself to think and to feel! After all that was the reason I was here.

If only those walls could talk they would have plenty of tales to tell- all the fun and games with friends (even our maid), all our sibling fights and rivalries,the birthday celebrations  inside this house- when the family would string up balloons and streamers, pack goodies in party bags which were called ‘back presents’, friends arrivals, home baked birthday cakes, customary games and snacks being served. The divine smell of aloo tikis, chole puris and jalebis. I started to feel hungry by now.

The study room window was shut.The ledge outside the window where we used to stand and play games on was there( it appeared lower) but had flower pots on it now.I made a constant effort either to catch a glimpse or to bring back those times-the hopscotch we played in the study should we call it play room? we hardly ever used it as a study room)stitching clothes(as presents for our friends doll birthday parties!),the wild sliding along the clothing line(inside the study room) trying to imitate the circus people (after watching one), standing on the wooden panel of the study door and much more.

I giggled when I remembered the day my sister stood up on a chair in the room and peeped out of the ventilator and watched me and my friend play in the verandah. Oh and how can I forget the cheek of sneaking pickled onion from a jar( me with my friend) at our friends place upstairs.

I tried my best to soak it all in but the house seemed so far from the memories in my mind’s eye. I went inside the entrance. The black grill lift inside which me and my friend played non-stop mischief(and got a big telling off one day) was gone!It had been replaced with a modern one.

Along with the old lift all the crazy memories of ‘laughing fits for no reason'(in the lift)with my sister and  her gang of girls was gone too.The staircase where all our friends acted out funny ‘stage plays’,played hide n seek over the weekends and holidays looked so dissimilar. I was not enjoying this.I had had enough. I was tired. It was time to take leave.

Although I was tired and disappointed, I felt satisfied as this long awaited trip was done. We had lived in what I thought was the best of times. Time had changed and the place had changed. The only real connection that  remains is the memories in my mind, the carefully preserved picture albums and some of our comic books. No wonder then; the scent of old books makes me smile 🙂


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